The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.

James P. RePass - President & CEO
Phone:  617-269-5478

The Hon. John Robert Smith - Chairman

MA Office: 59 Gates Street, Boston, MA. 02127
CT Office, 8 Riverbend Drive, Mystic, CT, 06355
RI Office, 35 Terminal Road, Suite 210, Providence, RI. 02905

Fax (CT): 860-536-5482

October 7, 2007

 

Leadership Forum on Transportation
and Infrastructure

“We Are All In This Together”

Massachusetts Lt. Gov Tim Murray, Chair


“We’re All in This Together” October 11 at Boston

 

Sense of Urgency, Commitment to Change
Inspires Transportation Leadership Forum

By NCI Staff

From NCI’s Destination Freedom Weekly Newsletter
Vol. 8 No. 41 - October 15, 2007
See This Link For The Original Article And Photos

 

BOSTON --- A sense of urgency, and a commitment to change, were the themes this past week as speaker after speaker from throughout New England and Eastern Canada focused on the ongoing weaknesses, and frequent breakdowns, of the transportation infrastructure in the Northeastern US and Canada, and the fact that the region must collaborate on addressing that problem, or face continuing decline.

Led by Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and supported by leaders such as Vermont Lt. Governor Brian Dubie, Connecticut State Senate President Don Williams, Canadian Consul-General Neil LeBlanc, and New Hampshire Passenger Rail Authority Chair Senator Peter Hoe Burling, the 100+ registered attendees at Boston’s famed Parker House heard that, despite areas of progress, the economy is hurting, businesses are leaving the area, young people are not returning, and the over-all quality of life is in decline.

The conference was organized by the National Corridors Initiative at the urging of Lt. Gov. Murray, who is recognized as a transportation expert and advocate because of his work as Mayor of Worcester in using better transportation access as a tool to help rebuild that city. Worcester has been hard hit by the same kind of economic changes that have affected so many other New England and Eastern Canadian towns and cities over the past decades, but is beginning an economic resurgence now.

Stressing the urgency of the situation, and unlike other events of this type, the group that gathered on October 11 wants to find solutions sooner rather than later, by working together not separately, and by acting now to create a regional solution to this large regional problem. As NCI President Jim RePass and others have said, “If America had been settled from West to East, New England would be all one state.”

Connecticut State Senate President Don Williams called for the gathered leaders to immediately begin working together on the establishment of a true region-wide rail system for both freight and passenger service, and Lt. Governor Brian Dubie, a pilot for American Airlines elected in Vermont in 2003 and re-elected twice since then, likewise called for better links between air and rail systems, and a comprehensive transportation approach that utilizes all elements in a functioning system.

Senate President Williams was one of 20 top political and business leaders from the Northeast to address the regional forum on transportation Thursday in Boston, Mass., calling for the formation of a regional transportation compact in order to improve New England’s economy and its environment.

“The New England states and Canada are an economic powerhouse whose engine is enormously dependent on rail and highway transportation,” Sen. Williams said. “What we need is a comprehensive and coordinated plan to address our increasingly obsolete transportation infrastructure. What we need is an interstate transportation compact.”

Sen. Williams -- who hosted a similar regional transportation summit in Hartford in April -- said such a compact would make the most of New England’s deep-water ports, get tractor trailers off our highways by putting more freight on rail cars, allow families to seek and commute to work on a regional basis, and help grow retail, residential and commercial development in and around transit hubs.

“It shouldn’t take a bridge collapse or regular traffic jams for governments to realize the economic impact that a solid transportation system has, not only at the state level, but on a regional level as well,” Sen. Williams said. “I intend to work with my colleagues in other New England states and Canada in order to move this initiative forward,” he noted.

Senator Williams and Lt. Governor Murray met when both of them spoke at one of the first regional conferences organized by NCI and Connecticut Sierra Club in New London, Connecticut, 2004 when Tim Murray was mayor of Worcester.

This was the third in a series of regional summits organized by the National Corridors Initiative. A diverse group of transportation experts, business leaders, financial experts and elected officials from New Jersey to Canada signed on to take part as panelists, and for the opportunity to meet face to face, to discuss regional issues with each other and explore solutions to the crisis --- including how to pay for the work to be done. Subsequent conferences and workshops will carry on that work over the course of the next several years.

The common theme of on-going travel challenges pervaded the morning sessions: some speakers were an hour or more late, yet had to drive starting at 4 or 5 a.m., to get to Boston. The largest city in the region is virtually inaccessible to its own neighbors, except by automobile, or the highly inefficient use of short-hop air travel, because of decades of poor transportation planning, and over-dependency on highways.

“Here they were in the heart of one of the largest cities on the east coast - a few got stuck in traffic and arrived late; others made it on time but not without the stress of many hours of driving after rising at 4 a.m.,” noted Connecticut Sierra Club Transportation Chair Molly McKay, “It was emblematic of the reason they were all there – the lack of a robust, world class rail system connecting cities and towns and our two countries.”

Lt. Governor Tim Murray opened the conference with the message that this gathering must lead to a plan of action and collaboration to re-make the region’s transportation system, and that by pooling the resources of “…this impressive group of leaders, solutions will be found”.

Kip Bergstrom, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Economic Policy Council, who led the first morning session, “Connect to Compete,” spoke of the unique opportunity in the northeast where cities like Boston and New York can have the advantage of pooling the talents of the best and the brightest if these large metropolitan areas are served by high speed rail. A couple could live in Connecticut, he said, and commute to Boston and New York if such a system existed.

Bergstrom, who is emerging as a key leader in the region’s planning community, was formerly Economic Development Director in Stamford, Connecticut. During the 1990’s he helped reduce Stamford’s office and industrial vacancy rates by 80% and closed a total of 45 deals representing over 6,000 jobs including the 2,200-employee North American headquarters of UBS Warburg Dillon Read, the investment banking arm of the world’s second largest bank.

New Hampshire State Senator Peter Hoe Burling spoke of the poorly conceived current plan to widen I-93 in his state at a cost of at least $850 million, only to have it feed into an already overburdened highway system in Massachusetts. The senator is chair of the newly formed New Hampshire Passenger Rail Authority, and will be revisiting highway-only transportation decisions made in previous years in New Hampshire, policies whose continuation would threaten to cost the state many billions of dollars and then fail to work.

Featured luncheon speaker former Gov. Michael S. Dukakis called for the building of a true high speed regional rail system that would serve Boston-Worcester-Springfield and New York, and for an expanded role for the Coalition of Northeastern Governors.

“The list of governors should include the metropolitan area of Washington, DC,” he said, “ and they should work together for a world class rail system that this country deserves.” He cited the work of a former aide, Bob Yaro, who now serves as President of the Regional Plan Association of New York, which is developing a “Mega-Regions” approach to planning.

During his three terms as governor of Massachusetts, Dukakis improved and expanded the entire metropolitan transit services of Boston and has continued his involvement in advocating for better rail service, focusing on keeping alive the North South Rail Link, a project that would serve commuters from all sides of the Boston area and close the gap in the Northeast Corridor, making it a seamless service from Washington to Maine. “The Link is essential for a truly effective and efficient regional rail system in metropolitan Boston,” he said.

Among the strong Canadian representation was France Dionne, a new delegate of the Delegation du Quebec in Nouvelle-Angleterre, who spoke of Quebec’s mission to ensure mobility “…via safe and efficient transportation that will enable healthy trade between the US and Canada, and foster sustainable trade corridor development.” 30 million consumers in Quebec live within a one-day travel distance to the US border, she noted. It is essential to improve transportation and develop a strategy to ease the Canada-US trans-border crossings, all the while maintaining effective security measures.

Mrs. Dionne closed by inviting everyone to the 400th Anniversary of Quebec City, in 2008.

Charles Tretter, Executive Director of the New England Governors’ Conference, has held together the NEGC through some rough periods when two of the states, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, withdrew their support. Tretter has worked for 48 governors during his career and understands well the need for regional collaboration. “New England won’t survive well without being cooperative,” he said.

Connecticut’s Assistant Majority Leader Representative David McCluskey, whose request to Jim RePass last winter that we “get everyone together to talk” led to this series of regional summits, talked about the need for reliable revenue streams and the great damage to Connecticut when the state gas tax was cut by 6 cents in 1988. “Had we not cut that tax, many of the projects Connecticut badly needed could have gone forward,” he said.

The day-long agenda included talks on tourism, conservation and historic preservation (Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport, restoration of the renowned nineteenth century schooner, “Ernestina”), transit-oriented development, and the importance of freight railroads in the regional infrastructure improvements, as noted by Providence & Worcester Railroad President Scott Conti and others. In addition, DEPFA First Albany Managing Partner Ned Flynn and Mintz Levin Partner Jonathan Ballan, who also chairs New York City’s Municipal Assistance Corporation, spoke of new, innovative ways to finance large infrastructure projects that are being developed by the financial community in response to the increased infrastructure needs around the world.

In addition to those cited above, featured speakers included: Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Representative Dan Lauzon, Connecticut Transportation Deputy Commissioner Albert Martin, Massachusetts Transportation Deputy Secretary Thomas Cahir, Senior Vice President of The Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration Peter Glankoff, Executive Director of the Schooner Ernestina Lt. Paul Brawley, Train Riders Northeast Chairman Wayne Davis, whose decades-long effort led to the start of the DownEaster, and Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority Executive Director Patricia Quinn, who has made the DownEaster the number-one ranked passenger train in the national Amtrak system.

In closing remarks, Lt Gov Tim Murray expressed his gratitude for the presence of so many dedicated leaders and attendees and reminded all that the next step must be a plan of action; he will be conducting meetings with interested parties over the next several weeks, including NCI President Jim RePass, in order to plan those steps.

RePass noted that Connecticut Deputy Secretary Albert Martin had called for such a collaborative effort as well; Secretary Martin has agreed to be the first member of and help get started on a region wide “Task Force on Transportation.”

Copies of speeches and power point presentations will be available on the NCI website. The full remarks of Senator Williams appear this week, as does the Lt. Paul Brawley’s presentation on the restoration project of the regionally historic ship “Ernestina,” whose present condition is emblematic of the condition of the region’s infrastructure, and whose restoration will serve as an inspiration to do the same with that infrastructure.


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